Promise Lost by Dan Moore

Witnesses and their testimony form the foundation for good reporting. Former Marine Dan Moore presents a wealth of both as he reconstructs the meritorious life of his friend, Lt. Stephen Joyner, who died in action near Khe Sanh in South Vietnam in 1968.

Moore interviewed more than a hundred people who knew Joyner during his twenty-four years on earth. Moore has collected his research in Promise Lost: Stephen Joyner, the Marine Corps, and the Vietnam War (CreateSpace/Hidden Shelf, 212 pp. $16.95, paper; $5.99, Kindle), which he calls a long-delayed “memorial to a beloved friend.”

The book has three observers: Joyner, through letters he sent home; the interviewees Moore spoke to; and Moore himself, who recollects time he spent with Joyner.

Steve Joyner possessed an all-American boy image with his positive attitude, football prowess at San Diego State, and physical strength. He bypassed a possible professional football career after becoming “the man of the family” following his father’s death at age forty-seven. Instead of playing pro football, Joyner enlisted in the Marine Corps after he graduated from college.

Joyner and Moore became friends while serving in Vietnam at the same time in different divisions, which adds credence to Moore’s analyses of events that challenged the emotional stability of both of them. Moore draws vivid pictures of action involving Joyner in and around Leatherneck Square in I Corps as a member of the Third Marine Division.

The discussion of relationships between officers and enlisted men should be required reading for new lieutenants—and perhaps certain captains, majors, and colonels, as well. Moore also dissects relations between new and experienced officers. He explains how the enthusiasm that made Joyner a leader on his college football team did not work as successfully for him as a platoon leader in combat. Moore’s analysis of repetitive operational tactics provides more lessons in leadership.

Moore writes about new lieutenants’ lack of political understanding about South Vietnam’s “corruption” and “support for reunification.” These shortcomings, he says, clouded their approach to the war and reduced their effectiveness.

Dan Moore

Overall, he clearly shows the good and bad aspects of leadership among Marines in I Corps during the height of the Vietnam War in 1967-68.

Several segments of the book focus on Moore’s life more than Joyner’s. Moore served with the First Marine Division. Following active duty, he remained in the Marine Reserves and earned a doctorate in history. He then had a career with the CIA until retiring in 2014.

—Henry Zeybel

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I Just Want to See Trees by Marc Raciti

Marc Raciti wanted to commit suicide but could not make himself do it. Instead, he opted for “passive suicide” by repeatedly volunteering for deployments to hot spots where he hoped to “die with dignity” in “support of the Global War on Terror.” During his 1989-2013 Army career, Raciti, a retired U.S. Army Major, survived five deployments to Kosovo, Iraq, and on the African continent while his life turned increasingly unbearable.

As an Army Physician Assistant who treated the dying and wounded, Raciti suffered guilt feelings for surviving while troops around him died or disappeared into the medical network without him ever knowing their fate.

“I had cared for the wounded, mourned for the dead and consoled the survivors to the point that I was numb,” he says.

In I Just Want to See Trees: A Journey Through P.T.S.D. (Jones Media, 160 pp. $9.99, paper; $5.99, Kindle), Raciti tells the story of personal agony that became PTSD during his twenty-four year Army career. He wrote the book in hope that telling how he dealt with his disorder might serve as a lesson for others with PTSD.

This memoir should interest Vietnam War veterans because of the guidance and hope it offers for those suffering from trauma generated by war. In presenting what he experienced, Raciti does not dwell on the gore and horror that produced his recurring guilt and nightmares. Instead, he concentrates on his post-war misbehavior, which created what he calls “a wide trail of severed relationships.”

Raciti examining a Somali woman in northern Ethiopia

Sharing hard-earned methods for coping with “constant anxiety and paranoia,” Raciti tells how he conquered “survivor’s guilt, shame, and feeling unworthy of life.”

The book ends happily. Raciti learns to control his PTSD with help from an enlightened wife, a caring counselor, and a service dog.

“PTSD is a chronic condition and medication only manages part of it,” he says. “Therapy manages the rest.”

The author’s website is marcraciti.com/services.html

—Henry Zeybel

A Walk in the Park by Odon Bacque

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A question from one of Odon Bacque’s daughters opened the floodgates of his memory.  It seemed an innocuous question, “Daddy, who are you?” As he reflected on his civilian career and successes, Bacque’s mind kept wandering back to his Army days and how they shaped his entire life—as military service has done for most of those who served.

In his case, he wrote a memoir, A Walk in the Park: A Vietnam Comedy (CreateSpace, 200 pp., $14.95, paper; $3.49 Kindle). The book gives an honest look at a side of the Army Special Forces in the Vietnam War that most never saw or even knew existed.

Bacque, a native of Louisiana—or more properly, a Cajan—entertains the reader with bits of humor as he recounts his time as a soldier and the innocent beliefs in the system that led him naively into Infantry OCS, jump school, the Green Berets, and a tour of duty with the 5th Special Forces Group in Vietnam. As Bacque walks the reader through his year in Vietnam, he realizes he could not have had an easier or more choice job.

It turns out that not all Green Berets were “snake eaters.” Bacque reveals another side, replete with administrative chores and payouts that seemed to have become a major part of Special Forces by 1969 when he was in country. Reading this book, we realize that the Green Berets had REMFs. And, as it turns out, lucrative post clubs featuring a variety of entertainment and “palace guards.”

Bacque gives a very honest assessment of his own role as a lieutenant in the Special Forces, a non-combatant who spent his year doling out funds to the A Teams assigned to his B Team area. As he progresses through the year, Bacque sees more and more things he doesn’t quite understand or believe were right. He becomes increasingly disenchanted as he is forced to administer payouts with no accountability to the mercenaries operating with the SF teams. However, like most of us, he soldiers on, focusing on how much time he has left in his tour of duty.

Bacque is brutally honest in shining light on the U.S. government’s lack of oversight into operations such as those he was involved in—as well as the corruption caused by throwing millions of dollars into black holes with little or no expectations of a return. It is refreshing to find a man willing to admit that his time in Vietnam with the Special Forces was less-than heroic when so many exaggerate their wartime roles.

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Odon Bacque

This is a true book with a story that needed to be told. Bacque is honest with the reader and himself, as he shows that not all of those who served in the war were trigger pullers.  He did his job honorably. In the end, it is apparent that his life was shaped and his character molded by overcoming the obstacles he confronted in the military.

The book is an easy and entertaining read—especially for those have never seen Don Bacque’s side of the Vietnam War.

—Bud Alley

The Good Governor by Mathew Walsh

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Among the tens of thousands of refugees who needed resettling after the fall of the Saigon government on April 30, 1975, were the members of the Tai Dam people, also known as “Black Tai” because of the color of their clothing. Originally from northwestern (North) Vietnam and Laos, the Black Tai had their own language and system of writing.

During the French War the majority of Tai Dam sided with the Viet Minh, though some fought with the French against the insurgents. When the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu the Tai Dam who fought with the French fled to Laos. By the mid-1950s most had secured work as domestics, bureaucrats, and soldiers. In April 1975, Tai Dam and other ethnic groups who had worked with the French or Americans feared for their safety and streamed into Thailand looking for sanctuary.

A campaign to bring them to this country began in the summer of 1975; letters were written to thirty U.S. governors seeking help. Only Iowa’s Republican Gov. Robert D. Ray agreed to resettle the Tai Dam in his state. Today more Tai Dam live in Iowa than anywhere outside of Asia. AThere have been expected (and unexpected) adjustment problems on all sides.

Matthew R. Walsh’s The Good Governor: Robert Ray and the Indochinese Refugees of Iowa (McFarland, 244 pp., $35, paper; $9.99, Kindle) includes interviews with dozens of refugees and resettlement officials who paint a picture of struggle and resistance, but also of hope and promise.

Ray was alone in his compassion among sitting governors in his efforts to welcome a group whose 12th century lifestyle was bound to conflict with 20th century America. He was determined to build a workable program that would integrate the two cultures in a way that preserved both without diminishing either.

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Tai Dam women

Ray also was involved with Cambodian refugees after he and a delegation of governors visited Tai Dam and Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand in 1979.  While there he watched as men, women, and children died for lack of food and medicine.

Working with Iowa SHARES—a program that brings people together in response to humanitarian needs without respect to ideology, ethnicity, faith traditions, or other ism’s and ology’s—the needs of Cambodian refugees were also met.

As we have witnessed over the generations, our rich national fabric is strengthened and enriched by the frequent incorporation of those fleeing oppression and hate and those looking for better opportunities for their families. Now, nearly 50 years later, the Tai Dam of Iowa are no different thanks to a caring army of volunteers aided by government and non-governmental agencies moved to action by Robert D. Ray, a United States Army veteran who served as Iowa’s Governor from 1969-83.

That is the uplifting story told in his worthy book.

—Jim Doyle

 

Not Enough Tears by Dave Wright

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I try to read a Vietnam War memoirs as if it was the first book I’ve read on the subject. Despite that, I recognize similarities from previous books. Consequently, the depths to which a writer reveals personal experiences influences my reaction to a book. In other words, I often judge a book based on the writer’s willingness to share his or her most horrific war stories and reactions to them.

In Not Enough Tears (Author House, 277 pp. $14.95, paper; $4.99, Kindle), Dave Wright generously opens his mind and heart to tell what he did and saw as a twenty-three-year-old Army infantryman. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion/26th Regiment of the First Infantry Division at Lai Khe during his 1968-69 Vietnam War tour.

Wright took part in two encounters that wiped out his squad, but left him unscratched. He justified—but at the same time questioned—surviving those and other traumatizing events as the result of his faith, which began when he was eleven.

“God let me ‘sense’ when we were walking into trouble,” he says.

Draftee Wright hated the war. “By three months,” he writes, “I was sick of life as a grunt.”

Yet he strove to keep others safe, choosing to walk point to protect new guys after watching too many of them get killed too quickly. Because he was a few years older, his fellow soldiers called him “The Old Man” or “Father.” They admired his good luck.

A natural leader, Dave Wright developed a philosophy whereby, when possible, he bypassed the enemy. His rationale centered on the certainty that his men would suffer casualties regardless of how many VC they killed, wounded, or captured. So avoiding firefights protected them from harm.

Wright discusses progressive mental and physical problems that made him resort to a “sham” and other schemes to get an easier job after eight months in the field. “I needed someone to recognize that I had done all I could, for as long as I could,” he says.

He was reassigned to a newly formed recon platoon made up of twenty-five “eight balls from the whole battalion,” as he calls them. The job was safer, but he started having “anxiety attacks just hours before it was time to go out into the jungle,” he says, and “was getting closer and closer to becoming a mental casualty.”

Despite his covenant with God, Wright worried about the future: “What if I screwed up and made Him mad,” he thought. “Would He stop protecting me and all those around me?” Eventually, Wright ended up in a support company where he felt relief. But he also felt guilt for “getting off line almost two months early,” he says.

You don’t have to be Sherlock to figure out the cause-effect of Wright’s PTSD. He provides the facts of his experiences and the effects naturally follow. For example, he reached “a new low,” he says, when he ripped open a dead VC’s face to help another soldier extract a gold tooth. He acted atrociously and no punishment followed, which complicated his “Why me, Lord?” puzzlement.

Back home and newly married, Wright slowly recognized that he had little control over his life compared to the control he felt when walking point. Depression, anguish, and pain followed. Work and church became the foundation for his life.

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Dave Wright

By writing Not Enough Tears, Wright was able to examine the changes in his personality that had resulted from war experiences. God provided salvation. As he puts it: “My stories are certainly not of biblical quality, but they are a true record of what Jesus has done in my life.”

Originally published in 2004, Not Enough Tears was recently re-released with revisions and photographs.

Richard Charles Martinez, author of Grunts Don’t Cry, served in the same 1st Infantry Division platoon as Wright in 1968-69. Their books complement each other.

—Henry Zeybel

 

The Smell of Light by Bill McCloud

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Bill McCloud dropped out of college in his second semester and volunteered for the Army. He entered the service on the ninety-day delay program, and was in uniform from September 1967 to September 1970. He served in Vietnam from March 1968 to March 1969 as flight operations coordinator with the 147th Assault Support Helicopter Company (the Hillclimbers) on the airfield at Vung Tau.

McCloud—who teaches U.S. History at Rogers State University and is best known for his book, What Should We Tell Our Children about Vietnam?—arrived in Vietnam just as I was leaving. He was stationed in a spot I thought of as an in-country R&R center for Americans—and for the enemy.

I wondered as I started reading his new book of poetry, The Smell of the Light: Vietnam, 1968-1969 as Told through Personal Poems (Balkan Press, 158 pp., $14.99, paper; $4.99, Kindle), how long I had to wait before there was a mention of John Wayne. Page sixteen rewarded my patience with an entire John Wayne poem, one of the best poems of the Vietnam War and certainly one of the top two poems I’ve read dealing with John Wayne

I present Bill McCloud’s “John Wayne” here because it will give you an idea about the high quality of the poetry in this book and because it is pithy and well worth reading.

 

We keep hearing rumors

That they’re currently filming

A John Wayne movie about Vietnam

Everyone’s excited now about John Wayne

Everyone’s excited now about going to Vietnam

Now it’s a John Wayne war

 

That’s a hard poem to top.

51abellxphl-_sx314_bo1204203200_1McCloud, a member of Vietnam Veterans of America, used his letters home as source material for many of these poems. I believe he was writing better and higher-quality letters home than many of us. Mining my letters for poetic nuggets would be a painful task, fraught with horror.  Not something I’m tempted to do.

McCloud deals with other universal Vietnam War experiences such as shit burning, but he does not weigh his poems down with this stuff. That is a  strength of these fine poems.

This book of Vietnam War poetry sits very near the top of the heap. Right up there where the star would go if this were a Christmas tree.

Thanks, Bill McCloud, for this beautiful book.

—David Willson

The Pentagon’s Wars by Mark Perry

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If you are looking for an inside look at the most important military discussions that took place in the last thirty years, read Mark Perry’s The Pentagon’s Wars: The Military’s Undeclared War Against America’s Presidents (Basic Books, 368 pp.; $30, hardcover; $17.99, Kindle).

Perry—a military historian, author, and a former editor of The VVA Veteran—presents behind-the-scene arguments based on his three decades of on- and off-the-record interviews with the nation’s highest civilian leaders and senior U.S. military officers. This book includes the fruit of eighty-two interviews Perry conduction with more than fifty military officers in the last two years.

Perry first explains the technical Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), which began in the 1970s. He ties it to the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act. Combined, the two actions aimed to end inter-service competition and required the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps “to plan and fight together, or ‘jointly.”’ It didn’t always work that way, Perry explains.

Goldwater-Nichols took the Joint Chiefs of Staff out of the chain-of-command and reduced them to organizing, training, and equipping tasks. Thereafter, the chain went from the President to the Secretary of Defense and then to unified commanders worldwide. That included “functional” commands of special operations, strategic nuclear weapons, and global force projection.

In essence, the act gave the President a more direct link to men in the field. The change also increased the tactical and strategic advantages provided by RMA. But each general still sought a share of glory in his service, Perry says.

He goes on to lay out the story of civilian-military relations from Desert Storm to the rise of the Islamic State. That includes a wide variety of situations such as an evening meeting in the President’s limousine and an early-morning argument in a stuffy hotel room in Dayton, Ohio. In doing so, Perry conveys the emotions (and too often the pettiness) of American leaders. The scenes he describes—including the planning of Desert Storm—ring with authenticity

Naturally, Perry focuses on conflicts surrounding presidents, Secretaries of Defense, and strong military leaders such as Colin Powell, Wesley Clark, Tommy Franks, “Mad Dog” Mike Mattis, Mike Mullen, Martin Dempsey, and David Petraeus. Perry highlights confrontations between Bill Clinton and Powell and Donald Rumsfeld against nearly everybody.

The 2005 “Generals’ Revolt” against Rumsfeld makes a most interesting chapter. In it, Perry explains the difficulties that America, as the world’s lone superpower, endured in finding capable leaders and tending to “overreach” to “shape the world as it saw fit.” In these respects, more than thirty years after the end of the Cold War, military leaders still have not had their voices fully heard.

Although men in uniform retained the right of freedom of speech, they frequently were bypassed in decision making, particularly on subjects that civilian leaders saw as minor issues such as those involving gay and transgender service members. Problems compounded themselves when generals failed to have their thoughts considered on issues of greater importance, Perry says.

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Mark Perry

The Pentagon’s Wars closes by pointing out that today “American soldiers [are] fighting in more wars in more countries, and with less success, than at any time since the end of World War II.”

Perry concedes that civilians “elected by the people, choose which wars to fight and when.” But he champions a need for generals to have a more-influential voice. “Those in uniform deserve better,” he says. “And so do we.”

How does The Pentagon’s Wars relate to the Vietnam War? What happened there greatly influenced the thinking of the generals cited in the book. As young officers, they established reputations and proved their credibility in Vietnam, to which they refer repeatedly.

—Henry Zeybel